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Study finds tests stressed too much in public school

By Jerry Cornfield
The Daily Herald

OLYMPIA — Washington public school instructors spend most of the school day teaching, though as much as an hour of their time is devoted to preparing students for state tests.

When not in front of a class, they are grading papers, planning assignments, improving their skills, dealing with parents or carrying out assorted non-classroom duties.

That's the upshot of a study released July 1 by Central Washington University researchers who used surveys and software to learn what elementary and secondary teachers did each day in the just-completed school year.

The $25,000 study, approved by lawmakers last year, is the most comprehensive look to date at how Washington's nearly 50,000 part- and full-time teachers go about their day.

There were no surprises in the findings, said a spokesman for the statewide teacher's union.

“We're reviewing the study, but it appears to confirm what parents and teachers already know: We spend too much time on testing and test preparation, which steals precious time from actual student learning,” said Washington Education Association spokesman Rich Wood.

State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, the ranking minority member of the Senate Education Committee, said the results show a need to help teachers spend more time teaching and developing their talents rather than prepping students for mandated tests.

“Standardized tests are important,” she said. “As a parent I know teachers need time to work with each other and look at how they can improve professionally.”

Researchers at the university's Center for Teaching and Learning set out in the study to identify the duties encompassed in the typical work day of a public school teacher and what percentage of that day is spent on teaching- and non-teaching related duties.

They surveyed 693 elementary, secondary and specialist teachers from small, medium and large school districts around the state, including several in Snohomish County.

Teachers answered questions on time devoted to instruction, classroom planning, interaction with students and parents, preparation for standardized state exams, professional development and duties assigned by the school or district.

A subset of 40 teachers logged their activities every single day via a computer program.

A school day lasts 6.5 hours and the state-funded work day is 7.5 hours. The study found teachers spend an average of 8.9 hours on campus each day with the extra 1.4 hours focus on wrapping up tasks they couldn't complete in the allotted time. Hours spent at home and on the weekend for school-related work were not parts of the study.

The study found teachers spend about 73 percent of the school day — about 4.75 hours — involved in direct instruction. Of that, nearly 18 percent is prepping students for one three state mandated tests.

The remaining 27 percent of the school day are spent on non-teaching activities, the survey found.

Teachers told members of the research team that the amount of extra time might grow in coming years, said James DePaepe, executive director of organizational effectiveness and the principal investigator for the study.

They said they felt their roles were moving from teaching as the primary focus of their work toward preparing students for state-mandated tests and filling out paperwork, according to the study.

Teachers also said the need to communicate with parents is “growing exponentially, placing an increasing demand on the teachers' time both during and after school,” the study said.

—Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

 

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